Fox News Media Taps Talent to Answer Advertisers’ Covid-19 Questions

The presentation was not designed as an upfront event replacement

A screenshot of a Zoom call with multiple faces
Network talent presented reporting and analysis on Covid-19's effects on public health, the economy and the election to advertisers Friday. Fox
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

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Less than a month ago, Fox News Media’s ad sales division scrapped a March 24 upfront event due to early concerns about the emerging Covid-19 crisis. While the company doesn’t have plans to reschedule that upfront presentation any time soon, the network on Friday held a digital presentation for advertisers where Fox News Media anchors and contributors weighed in on the ongoing pandemic and its effects on the economy and the 2020 election.

The presentation was not designed as an upfront replacement but was instead programmed to answer broader questions that the ad sales team was already fielding during meetings with clients, said Fox News Media evp, advertising sales Jeff Collins.

“We were getting questions in meetings [like], ‘Well, what is [Fox News and Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo] hearing from the CEOs on the street? What are they saying about the election? Will there be an election?’” Collins said. “The intention was borne from what our advertisers asked for, which is, ‘We want to know about health, we want to know about the economy, we want to know about the election.’”

To that end, the presentation featured Fox News medical contributor Nicole Saphier and anchors Maria Bartiromo and Chris Wallace, who shared reporting and analysis about the crisis. CEO Suzanne Scott and president and executive editor Jay Wallace also made appearances, with Scott underscoring recent town halls, a decision to make the channel free to non-cable subscribers and several new editorial initiatives, including a recently developed uplifting news initiative titled America Together.

“There’s going to be no bar charts, there will be no sizzle reel,” Collins said during the presentation. “The intention of today is not sales-focused, in fact, at all. It’s simply to better equip you with important information that’s going to help you get through this current crisis.”

The call, attended by more than 300 advertising clients, was reminiscent of a similar event held by Fox News sister network Fox Sports in early April, when those networks’ executives held hourlong video conferences with agency partners to discuss the state of the sports marketplace and the paths forward. Fox Entertainment is also holding its own slate of virtual town halls.

Collins said the goals around education and long-term collaboration from both presentations came from a similar idea percolating through Fox Corp., although those events ultimately looked different in execution.

The 2020 upfront talks will be Collins’ second at Fox News Media since he joined in May 2019 from Viant Technologies, but the Covid-19 crisis has thrown a traditional upfront week in disarray. While some advertisers, like those in the CPG sector, are still interested in transacting with Fox News Media in a somewhat normal upfront timeframe, other advertisers are asking to push into the fourth quarter, or are asking to put a pin in talks for a month or two.

Because of those varying needs, Collins said it was unlikely the company could present a traditional upfront that could address such varied questions.

“Right now we’re focused on meeting one-to-one,” Collins said. “Their needs are so diverse by category right now that it’d be very challenging for us to put on a one-size-fits-all show right now.”

In the first few weeks of the Covid-19 crisis, Collins said advertisers on the network went into “triage mode,” with heavily affected sectors like travel, retail and auto shifting or canceling their marketing on the networks. Those calls for cancellations and shifts have since quieted down, Collins said, and Fox is now seeing more new business coming in than cancellations.

Some sectors upping their advertising include QSR brands and several first-time advertisers seeking out a higher-than-normal 18-49 audience on the network. There is also an uptick among advertiser interest in daytime as widespread stay-at-home orders have translated to higher-than-normal viewership and an interest in gravitating toward uplifting programming, Collins said.

While Collins and the ad sales team is focused on educating advertisers on new opportunities, they have also held onto the ad sales pitch developed before the crisis, one centered on the “diversity of content” on the network and the different opportunities it presents for advertisers, Collins said.

“A lot of what we’re doing is simply socializing what’s happening, and that has become less of an overt sale,” he said. “Advertisers understand what’s happening with these audiences, and advertisers understand the growth of the younger demos. We just have to make sure they’re placed in the appropriate settings.”

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.